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The season so far

It's been a strange old fantasy season, with some of the stalwarts struggling to find form and clean sheets proving to be about as common as a Liverpool victory.

It means there will be a lot of soul-searching to be done by Premier League fantasy managers as the season passes the halfway mark over the festive period.

The standard advice has always been to stick by the big names, as even if they go through a bad patch they are sure to come good in the end. And it looked as though those sage words were to be proved true when Chelsea's Frank Lampard shrugged off his early season woes and found his goalscoring boots.

Lampard, team-mate Didier Drogba, plus Arsenal's Francesc Fabregas have been the stars of the show so far, scoring 91, 92 and 90 points respectively. The trio have proved to be the must-haves, and any manager without them will have found it difficult to compete.

The problem has been elsewhere. Injuries and a failure to live up to the form of previous seasons have caused much frustration. And that is certainly true of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard. While Cristiano Ronaldo was always the picture book fantasy player, both Gerrard and Lampard could be relied upon to be high scorers too, if not in the same class as the now-deposed FIFA World Player of the Year.

It's been a season to forget so far for Liverpool, and even Gerrard hasn't managed to come out smelling of roses as he usually does. Granted, the England international spent a month on the sidelines due to fitness problems, but he would usually be expected to perform when available.

Gerrard remains the tenth best midfielder in the game, but his price is huge at £12.7 million. A return of 65 points is not good enough for that kind of outlay. Consider that Lampard is actually £0.2 million cheaper and has scored 50% more points, and it underlines the disparity between price and points. Lee Bowyer, the fantasy revelation of the season, costs only £5 million and has scored 69 points to Gerrard's 65.

The Liverpool skipper has not scored a goal since gameweek 12 - we've played 18 now - and that's his only goal in 11 gameweeks. As Liverpool form shows no sign of improving, making a change sooner rather than later is a wise choice.

Fernando Torres, however, has managed to shrug off his fitness problems to still be the fifth best striker in the game, and that's depsite only making 12 starts. Still, at £10.7 million he seems a gamble.

Defensively, it's been folly to follow the big teams, with Liverpool again the main culprits. Although Glen Johnson started the season as one of the best performers, since gameweek five he has managed to score just 17 points. That's a return of 1.31 points per week which, for a player who now costs £7.1 million, is pathetic.

Only Chelsea have proved to be any value as far as defenders are concerned, with nine clean sheets. Although Manchester United have seven they have had so many defensive injuries that the top names have not scored points. Despite John Terry and Ashley Cole scoring over 60 points, they do not top the points charts.

Thomas Vermaelen is the top scoring player from the traditional big four clubs, but proof that goalscoring has been key even for defenders comes with Richard Dunne being far and away the key purchase. Dunne, on 78 points, has notched 13 more than Vermaelen. While Dunne has a creditable eight clean sheets, it's the three goals he has bagged which make him the defender of the season so far.

Dunne's price has risen sharply and at £6.7 million he is now probably at the top end of being value for money.

And with most of the top players struggling to live up to their pre-season billing, bargains have been the order of the day. Out of the top ten defenders, half are priced at £5 million or less and include players from Wolves, Burnley and Stoke City. Few would have predicted that at the start of the season.

Another Villa player is the top goalkeeper, with Brad Friedel seven points ahead of Stoke's Thomas Sorensen with Petr Cech, at an expensive £8 million, third.

Though the likes of Cech, Johnson and Vermaelen remain popular in the transfer market, there's no doubt that, due the vast gap in scoring between defensive and offensive players, there is little point in spending on top four players when others are scoring almost as many points. Save the cash and use it on midfielders and strikers.

So finally, the forward line. As discussed at the start of the season, the exit of Ronaldo opened a window of opportunity for strikers to return to the top of the fantasy charts. While midfielders do still have the edge this term, it is much tighter than it has been in the last two seasons.

The difference with strikers is that the top scorers are generally living up to their price tags, meaning there are not too many bargains. That means shuffling around your defence to create cash is even more important. Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent have added some value, though.

Tips for the coming weeks: Buy Manchester United and Chelsea players - their fixture lists are very favourable - and don't waste transfers on the African Nations Cup. Remember, it's a squad game and you have a bench to rotate on.

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